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Cycling TV – An Over The Top Revolution

Television viewership of pro cycling has been going down, and the trend is likely to continue if the sport doesn’t work on enhancing and modernizing its viewership strategy.   The 2016 Tour de France, for example, was the least-watched edition of the sport’s premier event since 2009.  And this directly impacts the primary revenue source: sponsorship.   The global shift in entertainment content to on-demand online viewing, combined with pro cycling’s lack of a unified broadcast licensing strategy and its escalating broadcast costs, is leading to a situation where the sport may have trouble maintaining future revenues. A smaller audience in a “number-of-eyeballs”–driven business model implies lower return on the critical investments those sponsors provide.  Over the long-term, that may drive sponsors away from the sport.    In the past, we have examined how broadcast costs can be brought...

Pay To Play?

Cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), and Tour de France race organizer Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) recently backtracked on one of the key WorldTour reforms both parties agreed to this year. The number of WorldTour teams in 2017 will remain at 18 instead of the ratified plan to trim it to 17, a move which enables continuity of the Dimension Data team’s WorldTour license next year, and quite possibly, the team’s longer-term survival.  But by agreeing to make this exception, The UCI and ASO have set a dangerous precedent and a further potential setback to the sport’s investment climate. Control over the sport’s economic future is at the heart of the matter here, just as we have described in several previous articles.  The UCI and ASO seem incapable of breaking their long standing stalemate over how the sport should be run, and as a result, their...

Whither the Giro?

Seemingly lost in the furor surrounding TUEs, Bradley Wiggins and the upcoming World Championships is the fact that ownership of the Giro d’Italia changed hands earlier this month. Italian businessman Urbano Cairo, a protégé of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and a magazine publisher, gained control of the parent RCS Mediagroup in a deal that just closed a few days ago.  The Financial Times reported that Cairo’s takeover is “seen as an uprooting of the vestiges of Milan’s old establishment …. who prized seats in RCS Mediagroup’s boardroom above all for its political and social influence.”  Mr. Cairo also told the newspaper that he intended to slash costs in the new organization. All of this could be a big deal for professional cycling. One of the assets hidden somewhere down in the RCS Media Group is the Giro d’Italia – the world’s second largest Grand Tour and itself an iconic...

Treating or Cheating? The TUE Question

Recent fallout over the hacking of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s athlete medical data files has been far-reaching. Most of the world now knows which champion athletes have competed using a therapeutic use exemption, or TUE; the use of doctor-prescribed medication in and/or out of competition.  Despite this unfair invasion of the athletes’ privacy by a hacking group called Fancy Bears, the old ethical question has again been raised – as to whether the TUE is a progressive development to preserve health and equitable career opportunities, or whether it is simply another loop-hole which can be exploited by certain athletes to win at any cost. Cycling, like many other sports overseen by the WADA codes, allows athletes to receive TUEs from their respective national anti-doping organizations, but only after rigorous medical testing and diagnosis confirmation. The most recognizable examples...

Black and white anti-doping fight nears stalemate – here’s how to break it

(Editors’ Note:  This guest editorial is written by anti-doping researcher, Dr. Paul Dimeo, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport at the University of Stirling, in the United Kingdom.) The world of anti doping in sport sometimes feels like a battle between opposing forces on the same side. The debate has become polarised between those advocating zero tolerance and those who want to accept performance enhancement as a reality to be managed. The latest leak claiming to reveal the banned substances cleared by sporting authorities for use on medical grounds by top athletes might offer us one route to a middle way in all this. Perhaps total transparency about these so-called therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) might work? The past few months have witnessed a glut of scandals reminiscent of the crises of the 1990s that led to the creation of the World Anti Doping...

Calling Time Out On the Team Time Trial

Cycling’s association of teams, the Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels (AIGCP), recently issued a strong rebuke to the sport’s ruling body – the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). Generally fed up with the pace of reforms and with the economic pressures they face in trying to field teams for all of the WorldTour’s far-flung races, the teams voted to boycott the upcoming UCI World Team Time Trial (TTT) Championship in Doha. This potential walkout highlights the teams’ growing discontent with the UCI – specifically the expansion of the WorldTour calendar in future years – and the frustration of not having enough input in how they run their own businesses. The key contention pointed out in the August 10, 2016 AIGCP press release announcing the boycott is that the teams will themselves have to continue to shoulder the costs of participating in what is...

Academia’s Role in Anti-Doping – In Microcosm and Big Picture

The recent fall-out between USA Cycling (USAC) and anti-doping researcher Dr. Paul Dimeo was widely reported in the cycling media. With the benefit of follow-up discussions and insights from both USAC officials and Dr. Dimeo, it is worth looking back at this incident in more detail – not only to understand what happened, but more importantly for what it can teach us as cycling tries to strengthen its anti-doping strategies.  In the broader context, this event has important implications for the conventional wisdom regarding anti-doping policy, freedom of expression, and the role of academia in driving change. Dimeo is a senior lecturer at the University of Stirling in Scotland, and a recognized and widely published expert in anti-doping and drug use in elite sports. He had previously conducted research and analysis for USAC, and in April, 2016, the organization asked him to chair a new...

UCI Scorecard: Are the CIRC Recommendations Being Implemented?

Brian Cookson took over the UCI Presidency in late 2013, heralding a new direction in pro cycling, and proposing sweeping changes in the way that the sport was managed and overseen. It was widely hoped that his election would signal the beginning of a new and cleaner era in pro cycling.  One of the key initiatives in Cookson’s early agenda was to create the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) – a panel of independent experts to look at the history of cycling, and to make recommendations for cleaning up and better managing the sport in the future.  The Commission was funded to the tune of €3 million, was led by three independent experts and was supported by a small internal staff.  It spent a year assessing the current situation in pro cycling.  It interviewed some 174 individuals, including past and present riders, team managers, doctors, scientists, owners, sponsors, event...